May 20 (UPI) -- U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Wednesday the coronavirus pandemic threatens Africa's economic progress and could force millions into extreme poverty as the number of worldwide cases neared 5 million.
In a video message posted to his Twitter account to launch a new policy report on the impact of COVID-19 in Africa, Guterres said African nations have swiftly responded to the spread of the virus resulting in fewer cases than they had feared.
Since the first case of COVID-19 was recorded in Egypt on Feb. 14, it has infected every African nation, resulting in more than 84,000 infections and 2,500 deaths.
However, three-quarters of Africa's countries have recorded fewer than 1,000 cases, but the figures do not represent the challenges the continent faces, the brief said.
"The pandemic threatens African progress," Guterres said. "It will aggravate long-standing inequalities and heighten hunger, malnutrition and vulnerability to disease."
The pandemic has caused demand for Africa's commodities, tourism and remittances to decline and the continent's economic trade zone to close.
"Millions could be pushed into extreme poverty," he said.
According to the report, the low case numbers relative to other regions have raised hopes that African countries may have missed the worst of the pandemic but the World Health Organization has warned that the virus could kill between 83,000 and 190,000 Africans depending on individual governments' responses.
"The WHO has stated that the virus and its impact could 'smolder' for several years," it said.
Guterres commended the African government leaders for their efforts in the fight against COVID-19 but called on the international community to strengthen the continent's health systems, maintain food supplies, support education, protect jobs, direct it from financial crisis and "cushion" it against lost income and export earnings.
He said countries should also offer African nations "quick, equal and affordable" access to any eventual vaccine or treatment, which should be viewed as a public good.
Guterres has been calling for a global response package to fight the virus equalling a minimum of 10 percent of the world's gross domestic product, of which at least $200 billion will go to Africa to alleviate the economic and social issues the pandemic causes.
In the video Wednesday, he urged for a comprehensive debt framework consisting of "an across-the-board debt standstill for countries unable to service their debt followed by targeted debt relief and a comprehensive approach to structural issues in the international debt architecture to prevent defaults."
Guterres' warning came as the number of COVID-19 cases crept closer to 5 million worldwide, according to a live tracker of the virus by Johns Hopkins University.
The virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and has since traveled the world over. The university reported early Wednesday that more than 4.9 million people had been infected with the virus, resulting in more than 323,000 deaths.